Change is in the air — members of The Safety Zone, St. John’s only advocacy group for victims of violence, are busy expanding services, building their safe house and relocating their second hand store.
The agency recently received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, which will be used to fund a long-term after-school program for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students on St. John, called Communities Mobilizing Against Alcohol.
The Safety Zone received a six-month start up budget of $75,000 for the project, which was launched on October 1. The start-up funding will cover costs through April 30, 2007, when the full year funding of $150,000 will be received to finance the project through the end of the 2008 school year.
Communities Mobilizing Against Alcohol
“The program is an evidence-based or model program,” said Sue Herzog, project director for the program. “A prolonged research process showed continued positive results for this program. Most programs conducted across the country and here in the territory are ones that feel good and are not proven by research.”
The popular police-run DARE anti-drug project is one such non-researched program where kids do not experience long range effects, Herzog explained.
“While DARE is comfortable in a lot of communities, it’s not a program which kids experience over time,” she said. “It’s not infused in a civic or after-school program. There isn’t enough there to get for the kids.”
Strong, Diverse Coalition
The CMAA program, which will convene weekdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m., is designed to run for at least two years, with a third year of funding possible, Herzog continued.
“Our program is done with a very strong diverse coalition composed of local adults and youth,” she said. “It’s an after school program that will be held at different locations across St. John, depending on the activity. All of our activities are performance in nature and communications-based.”
Activities will include music, theater, dance, set design, costume making and writing. The group will create vignettes — all with messages about the dangers of underage drinking — to perform in front of various civic organizations. This program is a unique opportunity for St. John youth, who often get over looked by federal initiatives, Herzog added.
District Structure Hurts St. John
“This is a wonderful opportunity for St. John because as our government is structured now, St. Croix is a district and St. Thomas and St. John is one district,” she said. “This causes St. John to lose out considerably because there are no St. John-specific demographics. This puts us in a precarious situation when we must document need — which we must do for all federal money.”
“We’ve been denied a number of grants at The Safety Zone because we don’t have the demographics to back us up,” Herzog continued.
Solving the problem is simple, according to Herzog.
“It’s my hope that the coming administration will see the advantage of creating a St. John district, so we can stand on our own in terms of bringing federal funds into St. John to help alleviate some of the significant and unique problems on the island,” she said.
The program is open to students between 12 and 17 years old and the group’s first performance will take place sometime in January or February.
While Love City kids will have a new after school program, adults and children can look forward to a new and improved Phoenix. If all goes well, The Safety Zone’s second hand store Phoenix — filled to the brim with great goods at great prices — will relocate from its old location behind Santos Laundromat to behind St. Ursula’s Church.
Although The Safety Zone has signed a preliminary contract for the building, the land is government property, requiring V.I. legislative approval.
The group’s executive director, Iris Kern, will testify before the legislature on October 17.
Negotiating 50-year Lease
“We’re trying to negotiate for a 50-year lease and we’re hoping for the legislature’s approval,” she said.
The agency plans on renovating the building, which has not been occupied for a number of years, Kern added.
“We’d like to enclose the lower level where we’ll have furniture, housewares and appliances,” she said. “We’ll need to renovate the upper level where we’ll have our clothes.”
The only snag for the planned renovations is the lack of money the group has available for the project, Kern said.
Community Assistance Needed
“If the building comes through, we have zero budget to restore it,” she said. “We’ll need a lot of help in both materials and labor. The community has come through for us before, and we’re hoping to get that support again.”
The Phoenix is a positive opportunity for both the community and The Safety Zone, according to Kern.
“The store is one of those situations that is a win for everyone,” she said. “The donor gets a tax write-off, the buyer gets great merchandise at reasonable prices and every penny comes to the agency.”
The Safety Zone’s safe house, Lucy’s Place, is on its way to completion. Two additional cisterns were just topped off, which was the completion to phase two, Kern explained.
Lucy’s Place Coming Along
“This has been a long process, but we’re hoping to start phase three shortly,” she said. “We must get bids on this immediately. We still have to construct a retaining wall, an office and two additional bedrooms.”
When completed, the house will have a total of five bedrooms and an office, and will be open for emergency and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
The Safety Zone also recently expanded its office with the addition of Shelley Williams as the new assistant director.
Williams, an entrepreneur, recently sold her business Cyberzone, and was looking to make a career change, she said.
“Iris (Kern) and I have a mutual friend and I knew that she needed help here,” Williams said. “I believe in this cause. I didn’t want to just get back into the corporate world — I wanted to make a difference.”
“Iris (Kern) has the vision and the drive, but she needed the administrative assistance,” she continued. “I’m rounding out the agency and filling the void they needed.”
The Safety Zone, which always accepts donations, is looking for volunteers to help in the office, with their after school program and with their various Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. For more information, to volunteer or to register for CMAA, call the agency at 693-7233.